Alice Kyteler: The Kilkenny ‘Witch’ Who Ran While her Servant Burned
Alice Kyteler (known also as the Kilkenny Witch) was the first recorded person to have been condemned of witchcraft in Ireland. The alleged witch, however, succeeded in fleeing the country, thereby escaping her punishment. One of her servants, Petronilla de Meath, became her scapegoat, was flogged, and burned at the stake. One of the most striking aspects of Alice Kyteler’s trial is the struggle between the religious and secular authorities in Ireland at the time.
Kilkenny Cathedral, seat of Catholic Bishop 13 th century. (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Alice Kyteler was born in 1263/80 in Kyteler's House, Kilkenny. Her ancestors are said to have been Flemish merchants who settled in Ireland around the middle of the 13 th century. Alice’s father was involved in the banking business, and when he died in 1298, she, as the only child, inherited his business and properties.
Alice Kyteler – Four Times a Widow!
Not long after her father’s death, Alice married her first husband, William Outlawe, who was one of her father’s former associates. Apart from being a successful banker, William was also the brother of Roger Outlawe, who would later become Lord Chancellor of Ireland. Alice and William had a son, who was also named William. A few years later Alice’s husband fell ill and died suddenly, and she inherited his fortune. She then married her second husband, Adam le Blont, another wealthy banker. He too died not long after, supposedly after a ‘drinking spree’, and Alice inherited his possessions. She married again, this time to Richard de Valle, a rich landlord, who also suddenly fell ill, and died. Once again, Alice profited from this tragedy, as she inherited all her late husband’s property.
Alice’s fourth and final husband was John le Poer. John’s health deteriorated, although he was only middle-aged. He found himself feeble and slow, his hair was falling out in patches, and those that remained were turning grey. Fearing that it was the work of his wife, he sought help from the friars at Saint Francis’ Abbey just before his death. The friars in turn contacted Richard de Ledrebe, the Bishop of Ossory, to handle the case.
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Alice had long been suspected of practicing witchcraft. For instance, not long after the birth of her son William, she decided to extend her house, and developed it into an inn. Still standing today, Kyteler’s Inn, soon became a notorious rendezvous for the wealthy men of Kilkenny, the star attraction being Alice herself. It has been claimed that Alice was an attractive, sophisticated woman who was capable of manipulating these men into giving her lavish gifts. The deaths of her four husbands further fuelled these suspicions.
Kytelers Inn as it stands today (Marcus Meissner / Flickr)
Weird Charges Mount Against Alice
The bishop sought to eradicate Alice, along with her supposed coven of witches. The charges brought against them include the use of sorcery, consulting and making sacrifices to demons, and heresy. Her accusers even claimed Alice had a shape-shifting black dog as her incubus. The bishop, however, had a difficult task, as Alice had supporters in high places. For instance, Ledrebe wrote to Roger Outlawe, the Lord Chancellor of Ireland, requesting a warrant for the arrest of Alice and her associates. Not only was Ledrebe’s request denied, but a surprise arrest of the bishop ensued. Prior to his arrest, de Ledrebe had summoned Alice to appear before him, but she ignored the summons and fled to Dublin instead.
Alice Kyteler Trial launched a witch craze. (Public Domain)
The bishop was eventually released by John Darcy, the Lord Chief Justice, who had travelled to Kilkenny from Dublin. Darcy examined the results of the inquisition, and finding them to be correct, ordered Alice and her associates to be arrested. Alice fled from Dublin to England, and subsequently disappeared from history. One of her servants, Petronilla de Meath, however, was not so fortunate. She became Alice’s scapegoat and was flogged, before being burned at the stake.
Top image: Suspicious townfolk targeted Alice Kyteler. Source : (Public Domain)
By Wu Mingren
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